Michael Rotchford is a man who who has spent his life working with numbers.
Within the span of a 30-minute conversation, Rotchford, the executive vice president in capital markets for Cushman and Wakefield, discussed complex financial instruments, like total return swaps and preferred leverage, with a breeziness more appropriate for a Sunday brunch conversation about the Mets.
“Finance has afforded me the opportunity to do a number of different, really creative type deals,” he said, flashing a smile as he recalled solving the toughest financial puzzles of his career.
Perhaps it is this kind of focus that is necessary for a career in untangling financial dilemmas.
Nonetheless, Rotchford’s tendency to redirect every conversation into a discussion about finance seems to have come from a lot of practice. He initially flirted with his career path through a fascination with the stock exchange, and he saw finance as his ticket to a life spent in numbers.
“I always had an interest in the stock market, so finance was really the entry to understanding more about the stock market,” he said.
This strategy solidified in the State University of New York in Albany, where Rotchford earned a degree in economics in 1979.
Out in the real world, he attracted more offers for positions in computer programming — his minor in college — a path that he rejected in spite of its monetary advantages.
“I didn’t really want to do that. So I took the lowest price offer that I got by about half and went to work for JP Morgan,” he said. “I wanted to be in finance. Because I found finance a very attractive field to be in back then and continuing on to today.”
At JP Morgan, he worked on project finance and equipment leasing, which came with certain benefits.
“At JP Morgan, I was probably one of the first people to ever get an IBM PC. It used to have this floppy disk and it was 56 kilobytes. Back then, we didn’t have all of the tools that everybody has today,” he said.
Rotchford’s enthusiasm for finance is only matched by his affinity for outdated technology, and he laments how the financial expert of today was spared from the limitations of archaic tools.
“Today, you have the Internet. You have the ability to find information both current and historic that would take weeks to really try to pull together,” he said. “I remember doing a project where we were comparing the efficiency, from a tax perspective, for a bank doing leasing transactions versus buying municipal bond. Literally, it took six months to pull together just the data, the historic data, to be able to do a proper analysis of that. Today, I could pull up all of that information on Bloomberg in about three seconds.”
In the 80’s, he moved on to Dean Witter and then to Merrill Lynch, where he worked on the sale of the US News headquarters in Washington D.C. to Japanese firm, Shuwa Corporation.
The deal, valued at $80 million, was a record for office space in the city at the time.
He established his own firm in 1991, the Saratoga Group, with an assignment from developer Olympia New York involving a site in London’s Canary Wharf.
Tom Falus, the current CEO of Sienna Capital, who back then held executive positions in Cushman & Wakefield Real Estate, lured him to his current domain with a sales pitch that lasted for years. “Tom would call me up every year and say: ‘Why don’t you join? This is the opportunity. Here’s what we can do together’… He wore me down. He’s a good broker,” he said.
Rotchford joined Cushman in 1999, and since then, his financial puzzle-solving skills have been set on a larger scale.
In May, his team acted as financial advsior and exlusive placement agent to Verizon on a biggest sale-leaseback ion New Jersey history.
Valued at $650.3 million the transaction invovled the sale of the 1.4-million-square foot Verizon operations centerin Basking Ridge, NJ, to Mesirow Realty Sale-Leaseback.
The most complex puzzle came in the form of three towers at the World Trade Center site. Rotchford, along with a 15-man team, navigated competing interests and a financial downturn to develop a strategy for funding the development of the 16-acre site.
The deal, which Rotchford describes as “one of the most complicated deals (he’s) ever worked on,” involved $1 billion in funding from the Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center site, and another $200 million each from the Port Authority, the state and the city, if the developer meets certain conditions.
Last October, developer Silverstein Properties raised $1.6 billion through tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of 3 World Trade Center. The move came after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey refused to guarantee the bond payments.
“When we started on the project, there was a lot of discord,” Rotchford said. “Everybody’s interests weren’t aligned throughout the process, but I think the result did align everyone’s interests.
“When I think about that deal, I think about it in context. It wasn’t necessarily the most lucrative deal from our perspective. But (it’s) something that I can go look at and be proud of.”